Willie Rennie calls for recall process to be used for Margaret Ferrier if she doesn’t resign

What on earth was Margaret Ferrier thinking when, having had a test for Covid-19, she left home and got on a train to London, potentially putting at risk everyone on the train, everyone on whatever method of public transport she used to get from Euston to Westminster, everyone she encountered at Westminster, including Commons and parliamentary staff?

And if that wasn’t bad enough, what on earth was she thinking when she left her London base and got on a train home to Glasgow when she knew she had the virus and was actually putting everyone she met at risk from contracting a potentially deadly disease?

I feel furious because it’s despicably reckless behaviour like this that is basically keeping me at home at the moment. Because my husband and I are at high risk from this disease, we are keeping our interactions with other people to a minimum. We know we are going to have to do that many months to come. We might feel better about going out to shops and restaurants if we knew that everyone was taking social distancing and mask-wearing seriously, but we just don’t have the confidence that they are. And when we see things like Margaret Ferrier wandering the length of the country while knowingly infected with Covid, it is a reminder of why we are having to make our world smaller.

I do know that it is easier for us than for many others. All of us can do everything we need to do from home and we do all generally like each other and get on well. I am struggling a bit, though, with not being able to see my friends in person as much as I am used to doing. It’s great to catch up online, but it can never replace actually being with people.

Nicola Sturgeon was understandably livid about Ferrier’s actions and took to Twitter to say that she should resign as an MP. They have thrown her out of the SNP group but they can’t force her to resign as an MP. She certainly will come under pressure to do so from both within  the party and beyond.

However, there is one way she can be forced to resign. The recall process. This was introduced in 2015 by the Liberal Democrats in coalition government. It provides a mechanism for forcing a by-election where an MP has been found guilty of some wrongdoing, either in court or by being found in breach of parliamentary standards. It’s a two stage process which is triggered in these circumstances:

  • If they are convicted in the UK of an offence and sentenced or ordered to be imprisoned or detained and all appeals have been exhausted (and the sentence does not lead to automatic disqualification from being an MP);

  • If they are suspended from the House following report and recommended sanction from the Committee on Standards for a specified period (at least 10 sitting days, or at least 14 days if sitting days are not specified).;

  • If they are convicted of an offence under section 10 of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 (making false or misleading Parliamentary allowances claims)

A petition can then be activated and operated by the Returning Officer for the seat. If 10% of the electorate sign it, a by-election, in which the MP can stand, is held. You can find out more in this Commons Library briefing.

The process has been used three times, resulting in two by-elections. The most recent, in Brecon and Radnorshire last year, was won by Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds. Unfortunately she lost the seat just over four months later in the General Election.

Willie Rennie has called for the process to be used if possible in Ferrier’s Rutherglen and Hamilton West seat and for there to be a process to remove MSPs.

Margaret Ferrier must go. I hope that the Commons standards authority gets a move on so we can move to a recall petition.

It would save a lot of public money and effort if Ms Ferrier listened to the voice of reasonable people and just quit right now instead of making her constituents jump through hoops to be free of her.

It was the Liberal Democrats who pressed for the recall process to happen in Westminster and we continue to argue it should be in place for Holyrood too.  We need a process to be able to remove bad apples from our parliaments.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • John Marriott 3rd Oct '20 - 3:53pm

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that there are clear specific circumstances in which a sitting MP can be ‘recalled’. Ms Ferrier’s ‘offence’ is covered by none of the three ‘triggers’ cited in the article, unless she were prosecuted or possibly issued with a fine. The Cummings example could be crucial here.

    I have to say that I admire the stance of Nicola Sturgeon and those of Ms Ferrier’s fellow SNP MPs in urging her to quit. I wonder whether a similar reaction would come from a Johnson and co if a Tory MP had been in the same place.

  • I wonder if Willie Rennie is aware of section 62 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, which suspends any recall petitions being opened to April 2021 or later, should the conditions be met?

    Public pressure is absolutely the way to go here, and this episode clearly shows the differences between parties who put public health first, and those where it sits well behind protecting your mates.

    But if you’re going to call for a specific process to be followed, better be sure of the rules before jumping in.

  • As a teacher in a secondary school, forgive me if I give a humourless laugh at all the gushing outrage at Ferrier’s conduct, and how dangerous it was and how she endangered so many people.

    The last official comment by the Lib Dems on schools opening safety on their website was the 10th August.

  • Shouldn’t the Lib Dems be opening up our democracy – you can safely hold elections just takes political will.

  • Geoff Walker 3rd Oct '20 - 4:41pm

    People are still signing the change org petition Cummings must be sacked 1,202,726 so far. If Cummings had been sacked the rules would have continued to be better observed and the rise in covid cases and need for all the second lock downs with consequent economic damage avoided.

  • Richard Easter 3rd Oct '20 - 8:08pm

    If Ferrier is not prosecuted, it gives a green light for people to turn up to work knowingly infected, and use public transport knowingly infected.

    We are already seeing Northumbria University staff warn they will consider strike action over safety. I’m fairly sure the RMT and ASLEF will (quite rightly) threaten a walk out if infected passengers can freely travel.

    What Cummings did was indefensible, but he did use a private car, and as far as I know, he was not confirmed as infected. This woman has deliberately put other MPs and staff in the House of Parliament at risk, and has also deliberately endangered the safety of the railway. A 19 year old was recently fined £10,000 for holding a houseparty. You could say that that guests went there at their own risk. Parliamentary and train staff were forced into a position where they could be infected, ditto passengers who had to make essential journeys.

  • I’d say that in the absence of Ferrier volunteering to do the right thing, it’s right there is pressure that a recall petition is possible. A by-election now would be tricky, but that’s no reason not to want it. Having her continue as an independent MP is not any kind of punishment.

    There are many businesses where it is currently a sackable offence to deliberately turn up to work with COVID symptoms, so this is bringing Parliament in line with the real world. The introduction of recall was part of holding MPs more accountable, and I think it is something that ought to be deployed, when appropriate, in order to remind MPs that they aren’t above the law.

    It’s actually one of the rare examples of Westminster being ahead of the newer Hollyrood set-up, where no recall is currently possible – hence the former finance secretary still claiming full salary and expenses, months after he stopped turning up for work or representing any constituents. I know there is a campaign to introduce it there, which I hope is successful.

    Tempting as it is to use this as an opportunity to remind the Tories that they were weak on Dominic Cummings, to do so is making excuses for what was, and deflects from the seriousness of what was ultimately, more reckless and dangerous behaviour at a time when everyone, even the most stupid of MPs, should know much, much better. Yes, some of the Tories are being hypocritical, but it also shows how insincere Ferrier was when she repeatedly demanded that Cummings resign.

  • Good point about Derek Mackay – how is he still an MSP! While recall petition for Margret Ferrier will take time for sure, if nothing done she will be an MP until next GE.

  • @Mike – it does look as if Mackay will cling on until next May, collecting a large sum of public money in the process, but it has made a lot of people angry, and discussions about introducing recall to the Scottish Parliament was in existence long before Ferrier so brazenly breached the regulations and put the public at risk.

    There are a lot of questions about the supposed time-line which don’t make sense, with conflicting reports from different sources, but the choice to travel long distances by public transport twice, plus an uncertain number of shorter journeys at either end, is on her.

  • richard underhil 6th Oct '20 - 10:50am

    Caron Lindsay | Sat 3rd October 2020
    Do we remember Sheffield Hallam?

  • Peter Hirst 6th Oct '20 - 1:03pm

    It’s still extraordinarily challenging to remove a sitting MP. The criteria need to be broadened as they still can hang on and even win a by-election. Surely she brings parliament into disrepute that The Speaker could rule on though it might then include many in high office.

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